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by Inés Carvalho, 12 April 2023
The lighthouse of Mapasingue | El Faro de Mapasingue
A Participatory Design Approach - Transforming a Communal House into a Platform of Activities in Mapasingue
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The community house initiative started in a neighborhood called Mapasingue, an urban area of Guayaquil in Ecuador. Settled on hills with less accessibility to services, the neighborhood was legalized little by little and populated by irregular settlements. In these types of neighborhoods, public spaces are often limited to irregularly shaped, leftover pieces. However, there was an old abandoned communal house in Mapasingue, which presented a unique opportunity for the community. Together with the community leaders, the architects decided to intervene and bring back value to the abandoned house.

©Cortesía de BBL estudio

This was a significant moment during the pandemic, when various neighborhood initiatives began to emerge in Mapasingue. These initiatives provided school support, music, and dance classes to the community. The idea of having a common place where these activities could be centralized and serve as a social incubator for new initiatives became increasingly appealing.

©JAG studio

The revitalization of the communal house in Mapasingue was led by a group of architects from the University of Guayaquil. The first step in their process (facilitated by the funding program of UNHCR) was to map out possible areas for intervention. After careful consideration, they selected Mapasingue as their pilot project to implement a new methodology of participatory design and revitalization of public space. The community of Mapasingue possessed certain key features that facilitated this intervention. Specifically, it was a locality where three generations coexisted, thus fostering a strong sense of social cohesion.

The pilot project began with a six-month participatory design process, where architects collaborated with the community by conducting workshops and gaining their trust. The ultimate goal was to ensure that the communal house would function only if the neighbors took ownership of the initiative. Hence, architects worked with other social organizations in the neighborhood to provide workshops on different topics, allowing for cross-sectional work.

As the process progressed, the costs escalated, and various solutions were implemented to address this issue. The original funding of UNHCR increased when it became evident that the transformation process was more profound than anticipated, involving not only construction but also a significant social change. Furthermore, the community played an active role by organizing fundraising events and donating materials.

©JAG studio

Once the space was inaugurated, workshops and activities that had previously been carried out in private homes were transferred to the communal house, which became the core of the community in Mapasingue. The community organizes and manages the platform of activities, ensuring that the communal house remains a valuable asset.

During the construction of the project, several challenges arose, including difficulties of working with workshops of 50 people, polishing the methodology, and the higher-than-expected costs. However, the team was able to overcome these obstacles through reinforcing the structure and holding small events to raise funds.

©JAG studio

The communal house is now a symbol of the community in Mapasingue, providing a platform for various activities and allowing residents to come together in a safe space. The use of low-maintenance materials and polycarbonate for transparency has also allowed the community to ensure its social security, making it a beacon of hope for the neighborhood. This pilot project has demonstrated the value of participatory design and the potential for community-led interventions to transform public spaces.

©JAG studio

The architects were successful in their endeavor, and they are now seeking new neighborhoods to implement similar interventions. The participatory design methodology is a valuable tool that they will continue to use in future projects.

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This project was submitted originally in Spanish by Jorge Ludeña who is part of the BBL estudio. Check the orginal project story here.

Inés Carvalho interviewed Jorge and wrote this interview article. Both Jorge and Inés are A--D ambassadors.

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